Posts Tagged: passion flower vine
It was a perfect St. Patrick's Day--not just for the wearing of the green, but for the wearing of the orange.
The Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) arrived in our yard Sunday afternoon, March 16 and deposited an egg, just like E. Bunny will do soon.
The Gulf Frit's host plant is the Passiflora or passion flower vine. Last winter Jack Frost nipped at the leaves and nearly killed one of our two plants but they're both springing back.
The butterfly first touched down on an Amaryllis (Amaryllis belladonna) before she located the two passion flower vines. Her battle-scarred wings related the story of a close encounter with a bird or other predator.
Once quite common in the Sacramento area in the 1950s and 1960s, the Gulf Fritillary vanished for about 40 years and is now making a comeback. It's a brightly colored orange butterfly with black markings and silvery spangled hindwings.
It's good to see it again!
Gulf Fritillary butterfly touches down on the leaves of an Amaryllis, aka naked lady. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary checks out the leaves of a passion flower plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Egg of a Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Whew! That was close!
When you see a butterfly with a gaping hole in its wingspan, you wonder what predator tried to grab it. A praying mantis? A bird? A crab spider or jumping spider? A playful cat or dog?
Whatever tried to grab it, it missed.
That brings to mind the proverbial saying, "A miss is as good as a mile," dating back to the 18th century. It first appeared in The American Museum, Volume 3, 1788.
The author wasn't talking about a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) missing a chunk of its wing, but the meaning is the same: a miss, whether as narrow as a strand of hair or as wide as the AT&T ballpark (where the San Francisco Giants clinched their National League championship tonight!), is still a miss.
This particular Gulf Fritillary landed on its host plant, a passion flower vine (Passiflora) last Sunday and then fluttered off, only to be replaced by scores of others. They were laying eggs on the plant.
One Gulf Frit touched down on the bright red blossom of the triangular-leafed Passiflora manicata, variety Linda Escobar. Its wingspan? Perfect.
It may not be tomorrow, though.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly showing signs of a predatory miss. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary on the blossom of a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you're trying to rear some Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on your passion flower vine, but the caterpillars seem to be doing a disappearing act, check the leaves.
You might find some assassin bug nymphs.
They look like little cartoon characters as they prowl the leaves, looking for prey.
That prey includes caterpillars.
These assassin bug nymphs, as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, are memorable. The nymphs (family Reduviidae and genus Zelus) on our Passiflora have beady eyes, narrow necks, needlelike beaks, long legs, and I swear, a perennial quizzical look. They're beneficial insects when they eat leafhoppers, aphids and other pests. They're good to have in your garden.
They're not so beneficial when they eat other beneficial insects like lacewings.
Or, when they eat the larvae stages of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae)--if you're trying to rear a few of these beautiful reddish-orange butterflies.
We've seen adult assassin bugs grab spotted cucumber beetles, inject a lethal saliva, and then suck their bodily fluids with their long feeding tube (rostrum).
We haven't seen one actually prey on a Gulf Frit caterpillar, though.
Assassin bug nymph on the prowl. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Assassin bug nymphs crowd a leaf of a passion flower vine. Note the yellow Gulf Fritillary eggs on the leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is the prey they're seeking. This is a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Let's talk butterfly eggs. Have you ever seen a Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying an egg in the wild?
The Gulf Frit (Agraulis vanillae), one of the showiest of all butterflies, is a flash of orange-red as it flutters toward its host plant (genus Passiflora) to lay its eggs. If you're lucky--that is, if you're in the right spot at the right time--you may actually see it laying an egg.
Our story began two months ago when we planted a passion flower vine in our yard to attract Gulf Frits. The vine, about two feet tall, was a thin, scraggly little thing yet to bloom. It still hasn't.
Well, about two weeks ago, the Gulf Frit butterflies discovered it and began laying eggs on the leaves. Soon, bristly-looking red, orange and black caterpillars appeared.
That's exactly what we wanted. Caterpillars. Lots of 'em. However, these little critters were not only hungry, they were famished! In a matter of a day or so, they denuded it.
The result: a pathetic-looking Passiflora that reminded us of Charlie Brown's scraggly little Christmas tree, a tree that nobody wanted and everyone ridiculed. In fact, when I showed a cell-phone photo of the sticklike plant to scientists at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, they laughed. Uproariously.
"THAT is a plant?"
What to do? Find another passion flower vine. A quick trip last Saturday morning to a Sacramento nursery yielded a five-gallon Passiflora manicata, variety Linda Escobar, hailing from Ecuador.
We temporarily placed Linda Escobar right next to Charlie Brown. That very day, both the caterpillars and adults gravitated toward Linda. Sorry, Charlie.
On Sunday I captured several images of a Gulf Frit laying a egg on Linda.
What does an egg look like? It's about the size of a pin head and emerges the color of pure gold (it will darken later).
Does life get any better than this?
Not in the butterfly world.
A Gulf Fritillary butterfly in the process of laying an egg on a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A tiny golden egg, the size of a pin head, begins to emerge. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The egg emerges. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of the tiny egg. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
No doubt many of them did.
The award-winning book, published in 1969, traces the complete metamorphosis of a butterfly, from an egg to a larva (caterpillar) to a pupa (chrsyalis) to an adult.
If you've ever seen a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar chowing down on the leaves of a passion flower vine, you've seen The Very Hungry Caterpillar in action.
We planted a passion flower vine two months ago in our yard. The plant hasn't yet bloomed, but the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanilla) found it. Thankfully! We planted it for them.
Within what seemed like a matter of days, the passion flower vine (the host plant of the Gulf Frits), went from no caterpillars--zero, zilch, nada--to five.
We've seen the showy orange-reddish butterflies fluttering around the plant looking for places to lay their eggs, but haven't seen them actually do it.
But the evidence is there!
"As a spiny orange-and-black caterpillar, it feeds only on passion flower leaves, eating many but not all species of the genus Passiflora," says butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "There are no native members of this genus in the state of California, but several are widely cultivated in gardens."
The butterfly, he says, can breed where there is a "critical mass" of these plants in a town or neighborhood.
Let there be a critical mass!
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanilla) heads for a tasty leaf on a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars chowing down on the leaves of a passion flower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of a very hungry caterpillar eating its fill. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)